Updated June 2, 2020
By Elisa Posner
It’s practically a tradition for a cappella groups to compete face to face. So when Rochelle Berman found out that the annual Kolot HaYam high school choir competition would take place online, she was skeptical.
“I was not nearly as excited as I would be if it were to be in person,” said Rochelle, a sophomore at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School and a member of the school’s Shir Madness group.
The May 17 competition required each group to submit a performance video. And when Rochelle saw the video junior Jonathan Morris produced for the group, she realized that even singing from a distance has kept the students close during this period of quarantine.
Singing and harmonizing is what makes the members happy, Rochelle said. “We’re trying to do whatever we can to keep that feeling, even though it’s from afar.”
Shir Madness’ entry was a parody of “Hashem Melech,” by Israeli singer Gad Elbaz. “Whereas Hashem Melech” is about faith in God, Shir Madness’s version, “COVID-19,” reflects the singers’ experiences during the pandemic: “COVID-19 / We’re staying clean / So here we are / Singing from afar.” Rochelle was one of the song’s co-writers.
Jonathan said to produce the video, each of the 14 group members sent him a video of them singing their part in the song. He edited the tracks together and sent that version back to the singers, who then rerecorded themselves lip syncing their parts.
On May 17, judges, spectators and the five groups that were competing logged onto Zoom for the virtual competition. Milken Community Schools in Los Angeles won.
Like Rochelle, Jonathan said he was also initially disappointed the competition would be online. He said that in the past, the competition weekend was an opportunity for group members to bond.
It turned out that the group still found a way to bond, even if it wasn’t face-to-face. “Our group chat was sort of blowing up,” Jonathan said. Members of Shir Madness texted each other throughout the competition, discussing their nervousness and reactions to the competition.
Rochelle said the constant texting “definitely added to the weirdness” of watching their own performance.
She explained that in a normal competition, she’d get nervous about whether the group would perform well. This time, they already knew what they sounded like, so the pre-show nerves were about watching themselves and whether the audience would enjoy a song not performed in real time.
The group plans to release their song “Zechor,” which they arranged with the lyrics from Psalm 132. It will be available on the Shir Madness Facebook page.
Elisa Posner is WJW intern and a junior at the University of Maryland.